• Published 16th Jun 2020
  • 487 Views, 11 Comments

The Power of Two - Locomotion



A young changeling runs away from home, only to be attacked by timberwolves in the Everfree Forest. Fortunately, Locomotion is on hoof to save her - but little do they know that she has a spy on her tail...

  • ...
6
 11
 487

PreviousChapters Next
Chapter 19: Heartfelt Hornette

The following morning seemed perfectly normal as Locomotion set off for the engine sheds. It was still early, but there were already one or two ponies going about their daily business; Big Macintosh was setting up the Apple Family stall, Bonbon had just rolled up the shutters on her sweet shop, and Roseluck was tending to her flowers one last time before opening her stand. Even Vinyl, usually a late riser, was sauntering cheerfully towards the market with Octavia by her side.

The two musicians waved a friendly greeting as they went by, and Locomotion responded with a casual nod. He had been firm friends with them ever since the Horse Junction accident, particularly Octavia whose life he had saved; but today, there was something about those two that he couldn't help envying somehow. Then again, he tried to reassure himself, it was probably just tiredness – after all, he and Hornette had been out pretty late last night, and it was only seven o'clock when he had woken up. He gazed over his shoulder, beckoning for her to pick up her pace, only to cringe with embarrassment as he remembered she wasn't with him.

“Hey, Loco,” called a voice. “Practising for the theatre, are we?”

Locomotion groaned and slapped a hoof to his face, mildly annoyed with himself. “Nah, Surfie, just forgot Hornette was still at home,” he mumbled.

“Oh...” Surfie raised a concerned eyebrow as she trotted up alongside him. “...are you missing her?”

“Yeah, kinda,” answered Locomotion glumly; but deep down, he couldn't seem to fathom why.

Thankfully, Surfie seemed to understand. “It must be a bit strange, not having her around all the time,” she mused.

“Yeah, it is kinda weird. I mean, I've hardly ever left her side since she came here.”

Surfie hummed thoughtfully in reply. “Yeah, I can understand how hard it must be. Still, it must be good for you both to gain a bit more independence,” she observed wisely. “Time apart can be really healthy, you know.”

This seemed to strike a raw nerve with Locomotion. He stopped in his tracks and shot his sister a look of hurt. “What the hay are you talking about?!” he exclaimed defensively. “I'm perfectly independent!”

“Well, there must be a reason you're looking over your shoulder every few minutes.”

“That was just the once!” protested Locomotion, clearly agitated. “I didn't even...”

“I'm not trying to attack you, Loco,” interrupted Surfie calmly. “I'm just trying to look out for you.”

Locomotion looked away, trying to calm his racing brain. Perhaps he was being a bit harsh on Surfie, he thought ruefully; after all, she had his best interests at heart just like any good sibling. “Yeah, I suppose so,” he sighed. “I guess I'm just finding it kinda hard at the moment.” Again, why? Why am I getting so edgy so quickly?

“I know. It'll get easier, though,” soothed Surfie. “You'll see.”

“Yeah, probably,” answered Locomotion with a weak smile. “Thanks, Surfie.”

The younger unicorn smiled back modestly. “Anytime.”

“Anyway,” finished Locomotion, checking his watch, “I'd better get a move on. I'm due on shed in ten minutes.”

“Oh, well, I'd better not keep you any longer then. Take care.”

“You too, sis – and take care of Hornette as well.”

“Will do,” called Surfie as her brother cantered briskly away. Once he was out of sight, she went on her way too; she had promised to meet Lily Longsocks for breakfast at the Clover Café before going back to her house to hang out with her. The journey into town gave her ample time to reflect on the bond between Locomotion and Hornette, and particularly how it had impacted on his mood that morning. From their earlier conversation, it was clear to her that he was feeling something a lot stronger for the young changeling than mere concern, but she had avoided bringing it up in case she touched another nerve. It was probably best, she told herself, to let him broach the subject at his own discretion.

But her thoughts were soon interrupted by voices from a nearby alleyway, well out of sight. Puzzled, Surfie slowed her pace and pricked up her ears, trying to listen in on the conversation. Whoever the voices belonged to were hidden from view, but they seemed to be speaking with strange accents that she couldn't place.

“It's all arranged,” said one of the voices, one which sounded cold and sinister and made Surfie cringe with discomfort. “When the coast is clear, our volunteer will go and prepare himself – and the first pony who spots him, our captain will make sure he believes it was the work of our 'target'.”

“But...I still don't understand,” objected another, almost like the buzzing of a wasp it was so nasal. “Why couldn't we have just waited until she was alone and struck her unawares?”

Surfie frowned. Whatever they were up to, it didn't sound good...but who exactly was this “target” of theirs? What did they want with her? And all that business about a “volunteer” preparing himself – preparing for what, exactly? She had half a mind to report them to the police; but any such plans were quickly thrown out of the window as yet another voice made her freeze in horror.

“No,” said the smooth, oily voice, “that wouldn't do us any good. We're trying to eliminate her as a Crawler, not a martyr. If we're to carry out our orders, honour must be avenged.”

That voice! Surfie scuttled quietly over to the alley, hoping to get a good look at the group. There was only one character that voice could possibly belong to, she thought grimly – but just as she was edging towards the corner of the building behind which they were hidden, there was a coarse whisper from up above. Before she could even begin to work out what he was saying...

“AGH!” exclaimed Surfie, shielding her eyes as she was blinded by a sudden flash of magic. She could have sworn the aura was a sickly green colour, but it was so bright that she couldn't tell. Her vision still blurry, she peered cautiously round the corner, trying to avoid being spotted. She could see around a dozen ponies standing and talking casually amongst each other as if nothing had happened; but there was no sign of the one she thought she had heard just now.

Perplexed, Surfie peeked out even further from her hiding place, only to lock up again as she caught the attention of a tall blue unicorn with pale green mane and tail. “Uh...is there something the matter, little miss?” he asked innocently.

“Uh...no,” answered Surfie warily. Somehow, that unicorn didn't sound all that dissimilar to the voice that had put her on the alert – but then again, it could just be coincidence. “Did any of you see a black Pegasus around here?”

None of them responded.

“Spiky red mane and tail? Medium-sized? Green eyes? Cutie Mark like a jerrycan?”

Still no response.

“Answers to the name of Electro Diesel?”

“I'm afraid we haven't. Sorry,” answered the blue unicorn.

Surfie shrugged. Perhaps she was just letting her imagination run away with her. “Well...thanks anyway,” she said apologetically, and went on her way with a puzzled frown. Unbeknownst to her, the group of ponies sighed with relief.

“That was a close one,” muttered a dark grey Pegasus. “Too close.”

“There, you see what I mean?” growled the deep green unicorn standing next to him. “If we'd bumped her off now, we'd still be in the clear!”

The blue one only smirked derisively. “We are, my comrade,” he retorted. “That insufferable brother of hers may be a perceptive colt, but that filly's so stupid she can't even see through our little game. One thing's for sure,” he added darkly; “we'll have to play it real cool from now on...”


It was well after nine o'clock when Hornette woke up, with last night's picnic and the warm feeling that came with it still fresh in her memory. It sure had been a night to remember, she mused; and though she felt a little sorry to have declined her usual bedtime story, she was elated at having made it through the night without a single nightmare regardless. With a silky yawn, she gingerly climbed out of bed and went downstairs to find some breakfast; but when she entered the kitchen, she was puzzled to find a note on the counter. She picked it up with her magic and read through it, wondering what was so important that Locomotion couldn't wait until he got home to tell her...


Dear Hornette,


Hope you slept well last night. I was up a bit earlier than I thought I would be, so I took the liberty of making breakfast for you before I left. You'll find it on the top shelf of the oven.

See you when I get home.

Love

Loco


Hornette's heart skipped a beat. That one word...love...something she craved just as much as the next changeling, even with her strong sense of morals......she knew Locomotion saw a firm friend in her, but love? How could anypony ever love a changeling? Surely she would have had to cast a really powerful spell on him in order for that to happen, and there was no way she would have done such a thing of her own accord. Then again, she tried to reassure herself, there was probably nothing to worry about; the “love” part was probably just a friendly pleasantry like Sweetie-Belle would put in a letter to Scootaloo or Apple Bloom, for instance.

With that in mind, the young changeling decided to ignore her concerns for the time being. Swiftly returning her attention to breakfast, she opened up the oven to find a tray full of freshly baked apple tartlets. Hornette beamed with grateful delight as she levitated a plate out of the nearby cupboard and began dishing out some of the pastries. Locomotion sure did pamper her, she thought happily.

But her good mood couldn't last. Once she had finished eating, she left the remaining tartlets in the fridge for later, and went to the living room to find something to do. But with nopony else around, she quickly found herself at a loose end – all the board games in the house called for two or more players, so there was little point in getting any of them out; and she couldn't put the television on because she had no idea which buttons did what on the remote control. Even when she tried reading, she was so distracted that she had to reread the page she was on three or four times before moving onto the next one.

“This is hopeless!” she burst out, slamming the book shut and tossing it onto the coffee table in frustration. “How am I supposed to get through this if my mind keeps drifting every five seconds?!” With a heavy sigh, she slumped her head over one arm of the sofa and gazed longingly out of the window. She felt lonely; rarely had she even allowed herself to acknowledge the need for company while on the run – indeed, constant solitude had been more of a priority than a curse – but now, stuck indoors with nothing to do and nopony to talk to, she could only wish for Steamer or Locomotion to come home sooner. “I'm bored,” she moaned glumly.

As if in answer to her prayers, she barely had to wait five seconds before a knock at the front door shook her out of her distress. With a relieved smile, but still feeling a little lethargic for reasons she couldn't explain, Hornette got up and went to answer. How silly of her, she chided herself, to forget that Surfie, Firelli and the Crusaders would be looking in on her that day. “Morning, Sweetie-Belle,” she said as she opened the door.

“Hey, Hornette,” answered Sweetie-Belle cheerfully. “How are you getting on?”

Hornette shrugged ruefully. “Not brilliant, if I'm honest. Things have just been so slow and...boring around here.”

“Oh well,” said Sweetie-Belle optimistically, “at least you've got me and the girls to keep you busy, eh? How about a game of Railroad Baron?”

“Sure,” answered Hornette without hesitation. “Do come in,” and she politely stepped to one side. Sweetie-Belle duly obliged, and trotted briskly into the living room to start setting up.

Railroad Baron was one of Steamer and Locomotion's favourite board games, almost like a cross between Monopoly and Connect the Dots. The object was very simple; each player had to build their own railway routes by pegging their respective “track pieces” into a perforated map of Equestria, and would earn money by transporting freight along those routes according to demand. Sweetie-Belle never played this game very often, even on the odd occasion when Locomotion invited her over, but she still found it fairly enjoyable. Besides, she reasoned, at least it helped to pass the time.

“So how have you been keeping then?” she asked after a while.

“Very well, thanks,” smiled Hornette as she rolled the dice for her next move. “Everyone just seems so much friendlier with me since I saved Loco's life.”

Sweetie-Belle nodded gravely. She could still remember how horrified Surfie had been when she heard about the accident. “Speaking of Loco,” she remarked, trying to force the grim memory out of her head, “Rarity tells me he took you out for a picnic yesterday evening.”

“He sure did,” affirmed Hornette. “We went to this hill about a mile out of Ponyville – you wouldn't believe what a lovely view we got from up there. And the sky that night...oh, it was so magical.” She sighed dreamily at the lingering memory. “I wish it could never have ended.”

A knowing smirk crept into Sweetie-Belle's expression. “Let me guess – you two went to his 'thinking spot'?”

Hornette gave her a surprised double-take. “How did you know?”

“Ah, it's no secret,” said Sweetie-Belle sagely. “Me and the girls used to go there for the odd Crusader activity, and as often as not, we would find him sitting alone with his thoughts at the top of the hill. He's never complained about us being there, but we still tend to leave him be whenever he's up that way – unless he really needs comforting or there's something important to tell him or whatever. It's kind of an unwritten rule.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” murmured Hornette thoughtfully. “I'd feel trapped too, if others intruded on my solitude for no good reason.” She paused for a moment to move her playing piece forward a few spaces. It was modelled on the Claud Hoofington, Locomotion's favourite class of steam locomotive, and she could tell by its care-worn appearance that this piece was always his first choice. Her mind wandered as she gazed upon its handsome lines, almost as if she expected a miniature likeness of the chivalrous red unicorn to lean out of its cab and blow a kiss to her...

Eh what?! Did I seriously just think that? Hornette shook her head vigorously, trying to rid her mind of that errant thought. What's wrong with me?!

“Something up, Hornette?” asked Sweetie-Belle, perplexed.

“Eh? Uh...no, nothing,” stammered Hornette hastily. “Just a...bit of a funny turn...I guess?”

But Sweetie-Belle didn't seem convinced. “Are you sure? Because you looked like you were lost in thought just then.” She gently took Hornette's hoof in one of hers, “Is it something to do with Loco?”

Hornette sighed heavily in defeat. “Yeah...I guess. I just don't know what's coming over me – every time I so much as think about him, I just feel like...all warm and fuzzy on the inside, like I want to be with him all my life, to share his happiness, to take care of him like he takes care of me. Every time I see him sad or scared, it...it really makes my chest hurt,” she confessed, not even daring to mention how Locomotion had come to her for comfort two nights earlier. “And now that he's out of the house, I feel so...empty...like there's something missing that I can't replace.” She sighed again and gazed down at the floor, almost ashamed. “I don't know why I'm feeling like this.”

Sweetie-Belle smiled kindly. “Well, I do – I've already been there myself, and so have Rarity, Scootaloo, Big Mac...you get the idea.”

But the look of confusion on the young changeling's face spoke for itself.

“What I'm trying to say,” explained Sweetie-Belle simply, “is that you're in love with him.”

Again, that one word – no sooner had the young unicorn mare uttered it than Hornette's jaw dropped open in shock and disbelief, her face reddening as a tumultuous wave of emotions swept over her heart. She definitely felt something for Locomotion, but love?! Surely Sweetie-Belle must have read her all wrong! “M...me? In love?!” she managed to choke out at last. “But...how can you be so sure?!”

“I know what love feels like, Hornette,” Sweetie-Belle assured her, “and the way you've described your feelings for Loco...well, what else could it be?”

“But...but how do you know it's not just changeling instinct? That I'm not just craving his own love so much that I've been...”

“Hornette...Hornette, listen to me!”

Hornette fell silent, but didn't look any less disturbed.

“Just because you're a changeling doesn't mean there's anything unnatural about you pining for his love,” soothed Sweetie-Belle, softening her tone again. “It's something all creatures experience, no matter what species they are; and I for one don't see why yours should be any different. And let's face it, the way you and he have been getting on, you might as well be an item already.”

“Well...maybe, but how could anypony love a changeling that way?” objected Hornette, still unconvinced. “It's not like I've got anything going for me.”

Sweetie-Belle smiled and shook her head. “Oh, I beg to differ. You're kind, thoughtful, well-meaning, talented, resourceful – Loco tells me you've got a really nice set of pipes...”

“Pipes?”

“Your singing voice. And think about it – what other creature can spin silk from her mane and make such tasty honey? Pinkie and Rarity could have ended up in a real jam if it hadn't been for you.” Sweetie-Belle gave Hornette's hoof a reassuring squeeze. “You're worth a lot more than you give yourself credit for, Hornette. I know that, Loco knows that...anyone with a dash of common sense should know that by now.”

Hornette stared into space, trying to come to terms with her emotions. Her mind wandered briefly – from the very moment she and Locomotion had first met, to her first bedtime story; to being startled by Pinkie Pie and falling into his arms; to the day he had spent flying with her; to last night's date...to that affectionate peck she had given him at the end. She had never had the chance to experience the ups and downs of love, even as a teenager; but now she was becoming increasingly aware that that day had finally (and perhaps a little suddenly) come to pass. There was no denying it, she realised – she was definitely smitten with the red-furred stallion. “I can't believe I let myself get so close to him,” she murmured guiltily. “What do I do now?”

Privately, Sweetie-Belle was a little perplexed. The way Hornette had spoken just now, it sounded like she thought she had committed an act of high treason – but why? Why would falling in love be so criminal, even for a changeling? Regardless, the white mare didn't let on; “Well, it's obvious, isn't it?” she observed. “Just talk to him – tell him exactly how you feel and why.”

“But...supposing he doesn't feel the same way about me?” objected Hornette. “What if he rejects my feelings altogether? What if I can't even...”

“Well, what if the sky turns to fire and your horn falls off your forehead?” interrupted Sweetie-Belle rhetorically. “Life's full of risks, Hornette; sometimes you just have to be brave and take chances, otherwise you might live to regret it. Pinkie's twin sister Marble, for instance – she had a huge crush on Big Mac, but it took her years to pluck up the courage and tell him how she felt, and by then, he and Fluttershy were already a couple. I can't even begin to imagine how heartbroken she must have been.” She paused for a moment before continuing; “I don't think it'd come to that with Loco, though. He's never had a fillyfriend in all his life.”

Hornette blinked. “Not even you?”

“Well...I did have a brief fling with him once,” admitted Sweetie-Belle, blushing faintly from Hornette's unintentional flattery, “but only because I was in a crisis over my Cutie Mark and wasn't thinking straight. It caused a bit of a rift between me and my actual coltfriend, and I hoped Loco would be a suitable replacement.”

“Was he?”

“No – I'm not really his type, as it turns out; and on reflection, I didn't feel much of a chemistry with him either. Just as well Lickety-Split was so quick to kiss and make up,” quipped Sweetie-Belle. “Confidentially,” she went on quietly, “Loco does yearn for love just as much as the next pony, but the trouble is he's too shy. That's why he puts so many romantic pairings into his stories – it's a kind of creative outlet for him, a way of sharing his feelings with the world.”

Hornette fell silent again. She knew Locomotion was a romantic, but had never felt the need to understand why; and now that she did, she could feel her heart aching with sorrow. So many other ponies had already found love in one form or another – Scootaloo had Rumble, Shady Daze was with that orange stallion whose name she couldn't remember, and even Sweetie-Belle had somepony to call hers – but Locomotion? That gentle, mild-mannered, handsome red unicorn who had taken such good care of her? Sixteen years old, and still there didn't seem to be anypony out there who loved him that way. How, she asked herself, was this fair?

“Sweetie-Belle,” she ventured at last, “would it be okay if we finished this game later? I need some time to think.”

“That's fine,” smiled Sweetie-Belle, trotting over to the bookshelf to find something to read. “If you need anything, I'll be here until half eleven; then Scootaloo's taking over from me.”

“Thanks,” murmured Hornette, secretly frowning uncertainly as she slunk away to her room. Her head was still swimming, still echoing to the tune of Sweetie-Belle's wise words and her own emotional quandary. Sure, she felt sorry for Locomotion, but was it really right for her to love him? She was, after all, only a changeling...

Then again, was there really any point getting in a tizzy about a relationship that Sweetie-Belle seemed positive would work out? It wasn't as if Chrysalis was there to rule against it; and even if the rest of Ponyville had a problem with it, they were sure to come round eventually – at least she hoped they would. They certainly didn't seem to complain about Spike and Rarity being together; and from what she had been told, they were by no means the only interspecies couple in Equestria, let alone the first. Maybe there was a chance for her and Locomotion...if indeed he did share her feelings.

But even if he did, thought Hornette, how would he react if she confessed them to him? She still didn't know too much about autism, but this would probably come as far too much of a shock to him...although, thinking about it a different way, why should it be? He had been nothing short of understanding right from the off, and the worst-case scenario would probably be that he'd let her down gently or ask to take it slowly.

Still wrestling with her feelings, the young changeling sat down next to her bed and gazed listlessly at her doll. “I don't know, Prairie,” she sighed. “Loco's a really nice pony, but...does he even deserve someone like me? After all the rest of my kind terrorised his?”

Naturally, Prairie didn't reply. She just stared back with the same innocent, loving smile she had always worn.

“It's not that I don't want to be friends with him – I'm just not sure this whole relationship thing's gonna work out,” went on Hornette glumly. “Even if I did tell him, I...well, what's to stop him freaking out? I don't want him to think I've been lying to him the whole time.”

Prairie still didn't answer; but in Hornette's mind, she thought she could see the slightest hint of plaintive sorrow in the little doll's eyes. It was as if she was trying to say, “Why are you torturing yourself, mistress? Locomotion would never think so badly of you. It was his choice to save you – to take care of you – to help you become part of this nation. He must love you back if he's been so kind all this time.”

Hornette was about to protest further, but something on her bedside table promptly distracted her. Before submitting his newspaper article, Featherweight had posed her and Locomotion for one more photograph; and as a condition for using it as the cover, he sent them each a framed copy of the same picture. Just looking at hers, and in particular the way Locomotion was gazing at her with shy, shaken gratitude, the young changeling felt her worries begin to subside. “Maybe you're right, Prairie,” she murmured with a small smile. “Maybe I am overthinking all this. So what if Loco's a pony and I'm not – I shouldn't let it bother me.” She gazed back at the picture again, and then out of the window with a much deeper, more longing sigh. “You really have captured my heart, Loco. I don't know what I would have done without you.”

With that, the young insectoid let herself drift into a blissful reverie, singing softly to herself as she recalled some of the more memorable moments between her and her beloved unicorn...

Author's Note:

The game Hornette and Sweetie-Belle is essentially just an MLP:FiM version of Empire Builder; not a game that I've ever played, but it still seemed like the sort of board game Steamer and Loco would have in their house, and I wasn't about to consider introducing Hornette to computer games just yet. I would also like to acknowledge my younger sister's input regarding her ponysona (Surfie) and her dialogue.

P.S.: Yes, I admit it - Sweetie-Belle's account of how Marble Pie's heart was broken was ripped straight out of one of the Hearth's Warming shorts, but with Fluttermac instead of the pairing I loathe the most.

PreviousChapters Next